Can Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Make You an Intellectually Fulfilled Nihilist?

Richard Dawkins has famously said that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has made him, not just an atheist, but “an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” In other words, by mixing a scientific theory with an ideology, Dawkins has found that his strict naturalism is, as it were, bolstered by the idea of evolution. Put still another way: a person challenged to defend his or her atheism can point to evolutionary theory as something that fits with atheism rather nicely, thank you very much. 

But wait. What other ideas fit rather nicely with Darwin’s theory of evolution? Surely not young earth creationism. You’re unlikely to ever hear a young earth creationist say, “Darwin’s theory of evolution has made it possible for me to be, not just a young earth creationist, but an intellectually fulfilled young earth creationist.” But there are other ideas, and not just atheism, that do seem to go rather nicely with Darwin’s theory of evolution. For some examples, it’s certainly not difficult to imagine someone saying any one of these things (however repulsive in some cases):

  • “Darwin’s theory of evolution has made it possible for me to be, not just a liberal theologian, but an intellectually fulfilled liberal theologian.”
  • “Darwin’s theory of evolution has made it possible for me to be, not just a Nietzschean, but an intellectually fulfilled Nietzschean.”
  • “Darwin’s theory of evolution has made it possible for me to be, not just a capitalist, but an intellectually fulfilled capitalist.”
  • “Darwin’s theory of evolution has made it possible for me to be, not just a mass murderer, but an intellectually fulfilled mass murderer.”
  • “Darwin’s theory of evolution has made it possible for me to be, not just a soldier, but an intellectually fulfilled soldier.”
  • “Darwin’s theory of evolution has made it possible for me to be, not just a eugenicist, but an intellectually fulfilled eugenicist.”
  • “Darwin’s theory of evolution has made it possible for me to be, not just a nationalist, but an intellectually fulfilled nationalist.”
  • “Darwin’s theory of evolution has made it possible for me to be, not just a socialist, but an intellectually fulfilled socialist.”
  • “Darwin’s theory of evolution has made it possible for me to be, not just a misogynist, but an intellectually fulfilled misogynist.”

What makes Darwin’s theory of evolution so intellectually malleable that it can (at least theoretically and plausibly) accomodate so many divergent ideas, from the pro-social humanism of Albert Camus to the blood cult of Adolf Hitler? If you’re inclined, and sufficiently motivated and creative, you can connect the dots of evolutionary theory to all sorts of ideological positions, including Richard Dawkins’s style of atheism. Isn’t that interesting?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to Can Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Make You an Intellectually Fulfilled Nihilist?

  1. Arthur says:

    @”What makes Darwin’s theory of evolution so intellectually malleable that it can (at least theoretically and plausibly) accomodate so many divergent ideas, from the pro-social humanism of Albert Camus to the blood cult of Adolf Hitler?”

    A big difference is that Hitler made no reference to the work of Darwin in his written output. Whereas Dawkins clearly does.

    You’ll find no mention of Darwin in Mein Kampf for example. Hitler entertained all kinds of strange ideas from the occult to the notion that blood carried heritage. None of this came from Darwin.

    So if one claims a direct link from Darwin to Hitler, one is being intellectually dishonest.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Athur:

    You and I differ on connecting the dots between Darwin and Hitler. I think it is obvious that Hitler’s ethic is derived from his reading of German eugenicists, probably most earnestly Ernst Haeckel. Hitler was a syncretist, no doubt. There were lots of creepy disconnected sugar plumbs dancing in his head, but the chief of those was struggle, survival of the fittest. He read out of the theory of evolution by struggle “the law of Nature.” Please recall that Hitler called his manifesto, “Mein Kampf”—not “Turn the Other Cheek.” And Hitler may not have mentioned Darwin in his book, but he does use the word evolution. He thought his goal was “preserving the best humanity, to create the possibility of a nobler evolution of these beings.” (I didn’t scan Mein Kampf to find that quote, by the way. It is in the historian Richard Weikart’s new—and very good—book on Hitler titled “Hitler’s Ethic” (Palgrave Macmillan 2009, p. 6). Evolution as absorbed by Hitler in its simplest form (survival of the fittest by an eternal and universal law of constant struggle) gave Hitler the opportunity not just to be a fascist, but an intellectually fulfilled fascist. The “law of evolution” gave his ideas the sheen of being “scientific” and therefore, to his mind, inevitable.

    Hitler’s fascism was a form of scientism. It added a metaphysical component to evolutionary science. Of course, this is what Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett have done as well, overlaying evolution with their own big leap of faith—their own metaphysical conclusion. That great leap is a strict materialist metaphysic—atheism—and they have then declared evolution the engine of their atheism and “a universal acid” in the same way that Hitler declared “the iron law of struggle” to be universal and the engine for the inevitability of his own ideas. It’s applied everywhere. Nothing escapes it. Not even free will.

    —Santi

  3. creationbydesign says:

    People do try to cover-up the Darwin-Hitler link, but as you said — Hitler’s views are a fulfillment of Darwinian theory. Weikart’s two books on this topic give abundant, irrefutable evidence.

    “‘Social Darwinism’ is often taken to be something extraneous, an ugly concretion added to the pure Darwinian corpus after the event, tarnishing Darwin’s image. But his notebooks make plain that competition, free trade, imperialism, racial extermination, and sexual inequality were written into the equation from the start- ‘Darwinism’ was always intended to explain human society.” (Desmond, Adrian [Science historian, University College, London] & Moore, James [Science historian, The Open University, UK], “Darwin,” [1991], Penguin: London, 1992, reprint, pp.xix).

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